Pittsburgh Fringe 2018
Voyage Theater Company takes us on a gripping journey 50,000 leagues into the enthralling world of anime, sexuality, and the female experience. Drawing on the intersection between mythology and female submission, Tentacles questions where fantasy lives in the context of modern day feminism.
Beneath the smoky den of St. Mary’s Lyceum, the private club turned Fringe venue, a monster of a show lurks, waiting to entangle its all too willing victims. This seemingly lighthearted comedy packs quite the political punch. The show within a show features our grad student Tessa, offering her thesis on a particularly niche form of kink, “Tentacle Porn,” when she is interrupted by former fling and Asian porn star Chris. (This last is an important aspect of the show so there is no intended cultural insensitivity intended in the label.) I was rather fascinated by the thesis itself, exploring the ravishment fantasy and how it can butt up against the varied definitions of feminism. With the interruption of Chris, every woman in the room, myself included had that visceral response; shoulders raised, face fixed as he confidently man-splains why Tessa’s assumptions are wrong.
This is where Tentacles really shines as the characters explore the complicated world of intersectionality, the cultural differences in gender roles and porn culture and social acceptance. Tessa Flannery is a gifted writer, exploring the complicated subjects of feminism, consent, ravishment fantasy and the blurred lines between our desires and our cultural mandates, with humor and an unexpected nuance given the subject matter, a part of the charm and appeal of this show which is quite literally greater than the sum of its tentacles.
My one criticism is the near constant interruption by Chris stretches the plausibility of patience for both Tessa and the audience beyond reason. I found myself having to sit on my hands and resist the repeated urge to ask to have him removed which pulled me out of the action somewhat because it wasn’t furthering the story, and it felt unreasonable to expect the audience to accept the reality that an educated, articulate woman would remain so tolerant without an actual fear of physical harm or present threat even with the occasional shift out of reality into fantasy which does soften the impact a bit. It felt like a bit of a missed opportunity to dig deeper into the dynamic between Chris and Tessa, which though alluded to, felt forced and clunky, and unnecessarily drawn out. That said, we are living in strange times where truth is constantly stranger than fiction so this may reveal my own bias desperate to see a powerful woman stand up to a bully rather than give them a forum to justify their own misogyny.
Tentacles uses a niche genre to intelligently explore complicated subject matter with humor and heart, even exploring the subject of representation in porn culture which parallels conversations we are having today about the need for representation in our art and culture. Ultimately, I found myself questioning the monster within, and though Tentacles felt a little unpolished and frustrating, the intention and the dialogue inspired by this leviathan was ravishing.